Absence of Equilibrium as Specific Motivation

In competitive or linear games we spend a lot of time trying to create play experience balance for players. The goal is usually to form a sort of equilibrium between the player and their surroundings. We strive to always give them every tool they would need to stand a fair chance during play. This is not true, however, of sand box style simulation games.

Whether you are talking about Football Manager 2010 or Mount and Blade, you tend to experience a near permanent absence of equilibrium. If we take Mount and Blade for a first example, you want to train a troop of tough and elite soldiers however those soldiers cost more in upkeep requiring you to spend more time trying to gather funds. As you go about the activities required to gather funds you will naturally increase the maximum troops you can command, requiring you to train more soldiers, creating more money sucking elites, etc...

There are two tricks to using this that allow it to function without getting on player's nerves. First the imbalance must rotate. Players will see the imbalance and set a goal of fixing it, that goal must be attainable. Instead the new imbalance should be a second order effect of attaining that goal. Second the game must encourage the player to be fundamentally self-motivated. In Football Manager 2010 for instance, if the player desires to go a perfect season, then they will overcome the rotating imbalances in order to achieve that goal. The same would happen if their goal was to become the top team of the top league, though the important imbalances may be different. On the other hand, if the final goal is dictated by the game ahead of time, the imbalances will seem to be little more than an attempt by the designers to be arbitrary and spiteful.

1 comment:

  1. You are quite right about that. In M&B I would find it really annoying to turn villages that I plundered/razed up to two times into allies if the game would tell/require me to do so. But if I can make that decision to regain their trust again because I want loyal, happy and productive villagers myself, it does not get annoying to cater to them. I.e. I will even do one of the usually annoying cattle drives to the village.

    This is also what always annoys me incredibly much if games are very achievement driven. This do this, do that, here is your to-do list takes me away this decision and motivation. I am sure I would simply hate it to brown nose villagers that I plundered before just because the game requires me to do it or if it is part of an achievement offering a special bonus or that is part of a meta achievement.

    I will stop it here before I continue ranting about the dangers of the achievement craze.

    For example, I will never plunder the village of Rduna - as it is the village of the nearby Vyincourd Castle which was the first castle that was granted to me in M&B.